The Wonders of America: Danish Exchange Student Experiences the Complexities of U.S. Culture


img_1799done.jpgIf you had asked me to describe the United States in 3 words, 6 months ago, I probably would’ve said Trump, The Kardashians and obesity. Not the best first-hand impression, I know, but nevertheless, that’s what I thought.

When I got here I quickly realized that it wasn’t that simple and that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I signed up to be an exchange student two years ago because I thought it would be a great opportunity to get away from home and experience a new culture. I thought “One year in America? Pfff, easy,” well, spoiler alert, it’s not.

I was born and raised in Denmark, but I have lived here in Kalamazoo since September 24th and I’m leaving on June 14th. In Denmark we graduate high school after ninth grade and then we have three more years of school before university.

I might have been one of the best in my ninth grade English class, but that did not help me when someone asked me if I wanted to “ride shotgun” in the car or wanted me to “spill the tea.” I never learned anything like that in my English class. The English language is so beautifully complex and confusing and I don’t think it will ever stop fascinating me how many ways you can say friend: bro, dude, buddy. The possibilities are endless, really.

I learn new phrases every single day, like butt dial and booty call, which are definitely not the same thing, and you do not want to get them mixed up when you’re trying to explain to someone why you randomly called them late in the evening.

As much as I try to deny it, I can’t run away from the fact that I have an accent. On one of my first days here, someone didn’t quite catch the fact that I’m from Denmark and when she heard my accent she came up to me and asked “Are you deaf? You sound deaf,” to which I replied “What?!”

The first thing I did when I got the call that I was going to Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo was obviously to do a little research, but nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock I experienced when entering the school. Walking through the doors, into a school where you have to wear ID’s, the guards have pepper spray and a riot is really not a big deal, can be overwhelming to say the least. There’s more students in this school than people in my hometown and the craziest thing that ever happened at my old school was that someone was supposedly high on school grounds.

Yet, I have never met a more loving and kind student body than the one here at Loy Norrix. People will give you bags of candy and instantly be your best friend even though you’ve never met them before. Instead of putting each other down, like you see girls do in movies like “Mean Girls,” girls stop in the halls, complimenting each other and building each other up.

I have experienced amazing things here in America. I’ve been to a Fall Out Boy concert, I went to Tennessee, I saw a hockey game, and I have many more experiences like that to come. But the ones that mean the most are the small moments, the moments where I really feel included. The first time someone asked me to sit with them at lunch, the first time someone asked me if I wanted to get coffee with them, these are the moments I’ll remember the most.

I might be a little biased, but Denmark is pretty great. We have free health care, we get paid to go to university and, according to Denmark.dk, we get more than 40 percent of our electricity from windmills. Even so, we also have to work on our ability to let other people express themselves.

You won’t see anyone wearing cat ears or bright red lipstick in high school, simply because they don’t want to be judged. Here at Norrix I could wear my pajamas to school and no one would care, which is pretty great.

With a guy like Trump as your president, America really gets a bad reputation in other parts of the world. I came here thinking that this country would be full of hate and discrimination, but while it does certainly have its problems, it is so beautifully diverse and accepting. Just walking down the hallway you see all types of different people, a girl rocking knee-high boots and a ponytail tighter than Dolly Parton’s face or a girl with bright green hair and hoops bigger than my head.

It’s amazing how you can unapologetically be yourself at Norrix. Here you have the freedom to be you, and I absolutely admire anyone with the courage to completely be themselves. That is something that Denmark could definitely learn from America.

If you were to ask me now to describe America in three words, I honestly wouldn’t know what to say. America is too complex and complicated to boil it down to three words, and I’m so incredibly grateful that I get to spend 9 months here and have my eyes opened to the wonders of America.

5 comments

  1. I can’t express it any better than you did! Thank yoy for representing every single exchange student. I’m a Lebanese exchange student currently placed in Louisiana! This year has been the best year of my life, I’m just so delighted with your blog! Thank you

    Like

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